Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Down with Traditional Values

There is much talk these days, especially since we are in perpetual campaign mode here in America, of the value system of a particular candidate or movement. The most common of these in the conservative circles I run in is “traditional.” Everyone wants to return to traditional values for the family, for television, for advertising, for schools, etc.

If you are a Christian, may I encourage you to fight strongly against such measures.

There are two significant problems that I see with this approach to the clash in the culture. I’ll start with the third reason, as it is not nearly as significant. If you argue that you want to return to traditional family values, how far back do you intend to go? 50 years? 87 years? 136 years? 200 years? And then, you must answer why it is better to return to one specific time over against another. Is it because there was no extensive education system at that time and you want to make your kids work in the fields to provide for the family? Or is it the time when Lucy could lie to her husband, facing only a wry smile as condemnation for her sin, to give us a chuckle?

It may sound silly in those terms, but that is a very important point to define if you use such loose language. Traditional has such a broad range of meaning that it really doesn’t communicate any specific views. Maybe that is why the conservative pundits and candidates are so willing to use it as they pander to their audience.

Second, if what you really mean when you turn the phrase “traditional values” are values that are informed by the Bible’s morality, you are lying to your audience. You are using a phrase that appears wholesome and would appeal to conservatives who reject biblical Christianity (though they may call themselves Christians during a Barna survey). There is no truth apart from the truth revealed in Scripture and no basis for morality apart from the same. We could identify any number of traditions (slavery, burning witches, child labor, etc.) that we would not want to return to, and we would not call them biblical. It’s really not about the tradition, it’s about the truth.

Finally, to use such a label when we really mean what is revealed in Scripture is to hide from our role as ambassadors. If we cannot boldly stand up and call for the biblical standards of morality to be the benchmark, then we ought to be careful to let others know we claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Rather than focusing on the outward appearance of a moral society, as we suppose was the case in the good ol’ days, we should be proclaiming the word of the Lord to those who are far from following its commands. It is not tradition that pleases God, but obedience to His commands as perfectly demonstrated by His Son.

 Nostalgia is no replacement for the excellencies of Christ. May I encourage you, Christian, to speak plainly and promote biblical values rather than traditions.

Matthew 15:1–9
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ “


  1. Good thoughts. Do you think, though, that we as Christians necessarily need to "fight" against "traditional values"? I can see changing the phraseology when we talk about it, e.g., "I'm for Bible-based values," or asking someone to clarify what they mean by the phrase "traditional values." But do we necessarily need to add that to the "list of things to fight against in the political arena"?

  2. I wrote this at 2:30 in the morning (one sleepless night), so I could have stated the more clearly. I think that the words we choose are worth fighting for, but the fight my by waged by asking the clarifying questions you suggested. I don't think we need to boycott the people who are calling us to boycott the people who are boycotting ChikfilA.
    May I amend that sentence:
    If you are a Christian, may I encourage you to fight strongly against such "language."

    (P.S.--that was my inflammatory language to pique the interest of the reader, so it is a bit hyperbolic.)